American Idol: Rating the Top 11's iTunes Recordings from Elton John Week

How did you spend your weekend, Idoloonies? I spent mine blasting the studio renditions of the American Idol Top 11’s forays into the Elton John songbook. The good news? My marriage survived 17 consecutive spins of Haley Reinhart’s “Bennie and the Jets.” A couple of these tracks might actually make their way into my regular iPod rotation. The bad news? Well, um, you’ll just have to read my takes on all 11 recordings, won’t you? Ch-ch-check ’em out, then post your own reviews in the comments. And for all my Idol ridiculata, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV.

Paul McDonald, “Rocket Man (I Think It’s Going to Be a Long, Long Time)”: There’s a zero-gravity sweep to the production (the guitars on the verse are exactly what you’d expect to hear if you were in a spacesuit floating over Earth), and the hiccups and breaks in Paul’s gravelly voice sound especially lovely in the studio, where he seems to be pushing his performance a little harder than he did in his live rendition. Another improvement from his Idol cover? No creepy whispered “long long time” at the end. Grade: A-

Casey Abrams, “Your Song”: A mercifully stripped-down arrangement that’s just Casey and a piano. The giggle after “if I was a sculptor” is a little too twee for its own good, and the end-of-song crescendo sounds more angry than urgent, but otherwise this is solid and nicely phrased. Bonus points for a sweet falsetto ending. Grade: B

Pia Toscano, “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me”: Not surprisingly, Pia’s monster truck of a voice is just as powerful in the studio as it is on the live stage, and thankfully, the production here puts that impressive motor front-and-center. There’s the feeling that Pia is standing two feet behind you, projecting her voice directly into your ear. Too bad she’s accompanied by some of the cheesiest backing vocals ever committed to record. Grade: B+

Stefano Langone, “Tiny Dancer”: The weird pronunciations that plagued Stefano on the Idol stage are even more baffling here. “L.A. lady” becomes “L.A. laden,” while “ballerina” again turns into “ballerinum.” And what’s happening “in da auditorium,” dude? A rogue harmonica that pops up on the second verse also seems at odds with Stefano’s pop-soul delivery. Which is a shame, because the guy really does have an interesting, distinctive tone. Grade: C

James Durbin, “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting”: I wasn’t a huge fan of this on the Idol stage, and there’s a similar karaoke-bar stank coming off the recorded version. Even worse, James’ voice takes on a shrill quality on the chorus, and devolves into barely musical screaming for the last 60 seconds of the track. Dee Snider he is not. Here’s hoping dude focuses on his vocal more than his pyrotechnics this week. Grade: D-

Lauren Alaina, “Candle in the Wind”: Lauren’s rendition is emotional and intimate, much as it was on Wednesday night’s performance show, but the studio version features a twangy country sound that does a better job of supporting the teenager’s intriguing vocal choices. Here’s an instance where the phrase “made it your own” actually means something. Grade: A

Thia Megia, “Daniel”: There’s a Ryan Tedder-lite feel to the production (more like strong-wind-and-soaking-rain than full-on thunder-and-lightning). Unfortunately, Thia’s voice, while pretty, lacks any real character or emotional depth. You may listen to this and ask yourself, “Why?” Grade: C-

Jacob Lusk, “Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word”: Mad props to Jacob’s producers for getting him to dial back on the histrionics, but dude’s vocals are so quavery in places, he sounds like a whimpering toddler who’s just been sent to the naughty step for a time out. The “totally ’80s!” blast of guitar at the end doesn’t make a lick of sense, either. Grade: C+

Scotty McCreery, “Country Comfort”: I know the kid is from the south, and I know he’s serving up a slice of classic country, but the opening verse here is so aggressively hokey, you can envision Scotty with a piece of wheat between his teeth while he recorded it. It’s tuneful, though, and I like his aggressive emphasis on the word “truck.” Kid’s gonna make a pretty penny shilling for Ford next year. Grade: B-

Naima Adedapo, “I’m Still Standing”: Naima’s Patois pronunciation seems a little less jarring on the iTunes version than it did in her live performance — but maybe I’ve just gotten desensitized from repeated listens. Either way, would you forgive me if I said I be jammin’, mon? Grade: B+

Haley Reinhart, “Bennie and the Jets”: Cannot. Stop. Playing. On. Repeat. So! Awesome! Grade: A+

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